Saturday, July 11, 2015

CELEBRATING OUR DAY OF DEPENDENCE

One of the most obvious differences between the way that we think politically in the world, as contrasted with how we think politically in the Kingdom of God, is between the concept of dependence and independence (which we just celebrated last Saturday in the United States).

In the world, independence is everything. At any given moment, I would say that there are at least a half a dozen countries or peoples somewhere in the world in a struggle for their independence. These people feel as if they are under the oppression of another nation or people who do not have their best interests in mind. They feel as if they and their resources are being used for the benefit of those that rule over them. They seek to be free from this control so that they can make their own decisions.

Even here in the United States, we at least see this sentiment. I think that there is an underlying and perpetual movement in the state of Texas to secede from the Union and make themselves an independent nation. We even see this on the local level here in the Northwoods, but in a slightly different way. Some years ago, there was a rather significant movement by many people here in the northern part of Wisconsin and those of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to break away from our respective states and form a 51st state in the United States. It was to be called the state of Superior. I think that the capital of this new state was going to be Hurley (just kidding about that one).

The End of the Pursuit for Independence

Although relatively few may be actually serious in these examples with our states, there is at least a measure of legitimacy to most movements for independence in our world. Had I been alive during the time of our own struggle for Independence from King George of England some 250 years ago, I would have been an ardent supporter of it. And it is true that we in the Northwoods quite often we are obliged to live under certain laws that are of no benefit to us, but only benefit the larger population areas of the southern part of the state.

But you see, this thirst for independence can never be completely quenched. Had the movement to form a state of Superior been successful several years ago, by now it may have been that the people of the U.P. would be feeling somewhat oppressed by us in the “new southern part of the state.” We know that the “yoopers” do have a distinct culture from here in Wisconsin, and sooner or later those distinctions would start to cause difficulties.

However, it would not even stop there, since the final drive of the thirst for independence becomes personal. The truth is, we do not want anyone telling us what to do. Not our parents, not our teachers, not our bosses, not the government – no one. Actually, we do not even want God to tell us what to do.

Independence in the Garden of Eden and at Babel

You can see that all this talk of independence is more confusing than we often think. While it is important in our present world and in many present political circumstances, the drive for independence, if carried to the extreme, can also have detrimental consequences. In fact, this quest for independence was first awakened within us by the very first enticement by Satan in the Garden of Eden.

Satan said to Eve, “You will be like God” (Genesis 3:5). The essence of Satan’s temptation was that Adam and Eve would not need God to tell them what to do, since they could act according to their own wisdom. They would be independent from God.

This was also the failure at Babel. The purpose of their tower was not for an observatory. It was not an overt altar to a false god, as is sometimes taught. The statement of the people concerning it was to “make a name for [them]selves, so that [they] would not be scattered abroad, over the face of the earth” (Genesis 11:4).

This was their decision – not God’s. Quite to the contrary, God had given men the commission to “fill the earth.” He wanted men and women to spread out over the face of the globe to the places that he had created for them. The people at Babel instead wanted to make their own name great. They wanted independence from God.

Independence for Ancient Israel

Similar stories continue through the pages of the Bible – stories of people and nations who did not like the idea of living under the direction of God. The early Israelites did not like the arrangement that God had made for them by sending them prophets to speak his word to them. They instead wanted to have a king – one of their own so that they could govern themselves. This was not what God had wanted for them at that time. He told Samuel the prophet, “They have rejected me from being king over them” (1 Samuel 8:7).

This was when Saul was made king over Israel. Even though this story is based in history and is political in nature, it is also a personal one – at least, that is how I want you to think of it as you read this post. Think of it in an allegorical sense, for what happened to the nation Israel about three thousand years ago has many analogies of what happens to us when we decide that we want to rule our own lives instead of letting God rule them.

Israel wanted a king. They saw that the other nations around them had kings, and they wished to be like them. If the nations could rule themselves, why could not they? Up until this time, the Israelites had received their directions through the prophets of God. A prophet of God in those days was more than someone who sometimes told the people about future events. That was actually one of their minor roles.

The main occupation of a prophet was simply to tell the people what God was saying to them. Samuel was the prophet of the Lord at that time, giving to them the word of God. And now the nation of Israel was saying that they did not want the word of God. They wanted to rule themselves. Saul became their king.

For a time, Saul seemed if he would be a good king and things went well. He was a very humble man when we was first chosen king. When Samuel told him that he was to become king, his response was, “Am I not a Benjamite, of the smallest of the tribes of Israel, and my family the least of all the families of the tribe of Benjamin? Why then do you speak to me in this way? (1 Samuel 9:21 NAS)

Slowly however, Saul began to change. He began to let his position fill him with pride so he felt independent of needing to consult God about his actions. At one particular point, Samuel told him, “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God…the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever, but now your kingdom will not endure.” (1 Samuel 13:13-14a NAS)

What happened to Saul is similar to all who decide that their own way can take precedence over God’s way. It begins all fine and we accept things gratefully and humbly. But soon we find ourselves using our judgment in ways that demonstrates that we have been removed from God’s input in our lives. We become proud in our independence from God.

After the words of Samuel quoted above, the prophet continues speaking to Saul: “The Lord has sought out for Himself a man after his own heart, and the Lord will appoint him as ruler over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Samuel 13:14 NAS)

The Eternal Kingdom

That man who is described as being one with a heart like God was David. Neither was this man perfect, as we well know, but he was one who stayed sensitive to who he was under the authority of God. When he did something that was outside of God’s way, he repented.

In this way, the line of earthly kings who would rule in Israel passed from Saul to David. This is perhaps significant in itself, but the most important part about this is that the eternal king, Jesus Christ, arose from the lineage of David, instead of that of Saul.

Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, puts it this way: “David…a man after my heart who will do all my will. Of this man's offspring God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised” (Acts 13:22-23 ESV).

From this event, the human aspect of the Kingdom of God became possible. When Jesus, the creator of all that there is, came to live with us as a human, he introduced to us the Kingdom of God. He also made it possible for us, as humans, to become part of that kingdom. The Kingdom of God is unlike any kingdom or government that we see on earth; unlike any government that is ruled by men and women. The Kingdom of God is ruled by God.

In the mystery of the incarnation, God was made to be man in order to redeem us. I will not go into all of the details at this point of why this was necessary, and there is much about it that no one understands, but this is the reality as given to us by God.

It is because of Jesus, coming from the line of David and at the same time being the eternal Lord and King,that we are able to say that the kingdom of David will endure forever. It is not that David himself will reign as king forever, but the One who came from his line.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “David, after he served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers, and underwent decay (to put it graphically). But He, whom God raised from the dead (speaking of Jesus) did not undergo decay. Therefore, let it be known to you brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you.” (Acts 13:36-38 NAS)

Our Personal Independence

This is where this history becomes relevant to us. This is where it becomes personal. This is where our natural drive for independence, if we allow it to remain unchecked, reaches a level that can become detrimental to our souls.

For each one of us, there is a natural appeal to Satan’s words in the Garden of Eden. “You shall become like God.” We all want to be our own authority. None of us like someone else telling us what we should do. We want to run our own lives. We want to become like God in this respect.

But God is telling us that should we choose that path, it will lead us to eventual ruin. Like King Saul, for a time we may not notice a great deal of difference in our lives. Gradually however, we will find that our own quest for personal independence will lead us further and further into destruction.
If we allow it to, we will want independence even from God.

Happy Dependence Day

Last week, in the United States, we celebrated our independence as a nation and our freedom.

Today I would like to celebrate our dependence, and our true freedom.

At one time, when Jesus was speaking to some people of Israel, he told them that once they came to know the truth of who he was, they would be free. “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free,” Jesus told them.

The Jews took offense at these words. “We are Abraham’s offspring and have never been enslaved to anyone,” they answered him. “How is it that you say, ‘You shall become free’?”

These people were depending upon their heritage for their understanding of what it meant to live in freedom. Conveniently forgetting the four hundred years that the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, plus numerous other times when their people had been slaves, they pridefully looked upon themselves as if they had never known bondage. Never mind the fact that they were at that moment under Roman occupation in their own land. How was it that Jesus could be so brash to say to them, “You shall become free?”

But slavery to other nations was not even the point of what Jesus was saying. Even if they indeed had never been enslaved as a people, they would not know true freedom without Jesus Christ. They would be enslaved to sin.

We may not appeal to our ethnic heritage for our claim of knowing what it is to live in freedom. We instead celebrate our national heritage. “We are Americans,” we say. “We have never been enslaved by anyone.” At least we can say that if we are white Americans.

But even that is not the heart of the matter. The message of Jesus to all of us is the same as it was to these Jews. “Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin…If therefore the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:34,36 NAS).

That freedom can only come by acknowledging our dependence upon Jesus Christ. That is why today, instead of celebrating our independence, I would like to celebrate our dependence. Without Christ, we are all held in bondage. It is only with Christ in us can those bonds be broken and can we walk in freedom.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

CORABELLE'S DEATH IN THE WILD

THE AWAKENING OF A SHEPHERD’S HEART

The predator expert who came out to look at my dead calf told me it was a coyote kill, not a wolf. He showed me the bare leg bones and the ribs, not ripped apart or crushed.

“A wolf breaks these joints in his jaws when he feeds,” the man told me as he held up a leg bone. “And the rib cage he also just takes in his mouth and crushes it completely.”
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A couple of Sundays ago, part of my sermon in our church dealt with the shepherd boy David as he told King Saul how he had saved his lambs from bears and also from lions. He told the king that when the lion rose up to kill his lamb, he “grabbed the lion by the beard and smote him until he died.”

I commented in my sermon that had I been in a similar situation, I probably would have let the lion have just that one lamb. I realize now that I may have been wrong in that self-assessment. I do not claim a sudden extraordinary bravery, but I spoke at that time more as a disinterested observer. With the death of my calf, I have come to understand that David acted with the heart of a shepherd.

The Death of Corabelle
My little calf Corabelle had been a long-awaited calf. Not only did we wait so long for her to be born this year, but I have been waiting for three years. I bought her mother Cora three years ago when I started buying cows for my herd. Cora was already old when I bought her, but she was such a nice animal, and although no longer possessing the body of a youthful cow, she had a regal air about her. As she walks, she holds her head up high, as if she were an age-ed queen, walking before her subjects.

In the three years that I have had her, Cora has given birth to three calves. Every year I hoped for a heifer, but for two years she had given me bulls. Royalty in human institutions have historically wanted boy children to carry on the royal line, but I wanted a girl. I wanted a heifer to carry on Cora’s line. This year she finally arrived – less than one week ago. Vivian named her Corabelle. 

This morning as I walked out to see my cows, Corabelle was not with her mother. This is not altogether unusual, since the mother cows sometimes leave their calves sleeping while they graze. But that was not all that I noticed. Cora’s udder was very full and it looked like her calf had not nursed for some time. I became worried.

I went down into the woods that comprises part of the pasture where the cows had been, inwardly knowing what I would find. Somehow, I walked right to the site without searching around. There on the ground was the head of my Corabelle, with the bloody spine and leg bones attached. Everything else was gone.

Suddenly, I realized another dimension to having a shepherd’s heart, or in this case, a herdsman’s heart. My thoughts were not on financial loss, they were not how this impacted my plans. Much to my astonishment at my own actions, I just began wailing for this little life that had been lost. “My little Corabelle!” I cried over and over again.

The Awakening of the Shepherd's Heart
There are a couple of things that I must say here. The first is that I know that there are other tragedies that are exponentially more heart breaking that this one. “After all,” we could say, “It is only a farm animal and not a person.”

I know that this is true. I am not trying to compare the two. I only wish to say that this incident taught me something about a shepherd’s heart. When I was a boy, growing up on the farm, an unexpected or tragic death of an animal was something that happened from time to time. That is the reality of farming. This has always made me a bit sad, but never do I remember being as painful of heart as I did with the death of my calf this morning. It brought something out in me that I did not even know about myself.

It also helped me to understand how David could grab a lion by the beard and smite him until he died. There was no calculation on the part of David in doing this, no weighing the consequences. David was responsible for the sheep, and he would protect them and save them.
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One winter day many years ago, when two of our sons were very small, Vivian came out to the woods where I was logging to see me. She was pulling a sled with the two boys in it, one of them about two years old, and the other only six months. Suddenly, she came upon a wolf, standing off to the side of the logging road. The wolf looked at her, and she at the wolf. Both Vivian and the wolf stared into the eyes of the other for a tense moment or two. Finally, the wolf put his head down, turned around and trotted off into the forest.

Vivian told me later, “If that wolf would have attacked my boys, I would have killed it with my bare hands.”

I believe she would have. Apparently, so did the wolf.

This is the heart of a mother, not a shepherd or a herdsman, but the need to protect those for whom you are responsible draws its energy from the same source. That is why, when there is a loss, the heartbreak is so severe. As I said, exponentially more severe is the loss of a child, but even with my calf, I was astounded to feel such grief. 

The Good Shepherd
Here is something else that this incident has taught me: I better understand what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”

What I understand better today than I did yesterday is that we have no idea the lengths to which Jesus will go to save us. Indeed, he did lay down his life to save us, but in a certain way, that same protective heart of the shepherd continues to go to any lengths to bring us to safety. He loves us more than we can ever comprehend.

Another thing that I understand better today than I did yesterday is that we also have no idea the grief that Jesus feels when one of us is lost, snatched up in the jaws of Satan. I was astonished at myself, how I wailed almost uncontrollably for this little lost calf. I cannot imagine the pain of our good shepherd when one of his is lost. 

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15 ESV)
 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

MY CALVES OF 2015

SPRING BROOD - 2015
March 30, in the afternoon – The day of Effie

Effie was the first of my herd to give birth.
I found her calf lying on the cold spring earth.
The mother acted quite congenial this year,
Letting me pet her newborn calf on the ear.

April 11, about midday – The day of Flory

Flory is Effie’s calf from two years ago,
She wisely waited until after the snow.
Today at midday, in the warm April sun,
She had her little calf – it was her first one.

Two little bull calves frolic now on our hill,
And we are awaiting three little calves still.

April 24, just at the new dawn – The day of Maisie
Today as the sun was coming up yellow,
I heard my Maisie voice a fearful bellow.
She had just had her first calf up on the hill,

When two wolves appeared; they were ready to kill.

McTavish was there; he’s our bull of large horn,
Ready to protect one so recently born.
I also ran up. I was armed with my gun.
I shot and missed, but they set off on a run.

Our calves are now three, small bulls once, twice and thrice.
Bull calves are fine, but a heifer would be nice.

April 26, another early morning – The day of Agnes

This morning I went out to check on my herd,
Although during the night, they said not a word.
I counted the calves – one, two, three, but then four.
Our Agnes had given birth to one more.

When I tried to see this one born in the night,
The mom came at me as if ready to fight.
My neighbor tells me, “The wolves make them this way.”
“Cows were much calmer,” he says, “back in my day.”

But the good news is, from what I could see,
Agnes gave me a her, instead of a he.

May 26 – Waiting for Cora

Oh Cora, like last year we waited so long.
I know you are old now, and are not so strong.
But the wolves are gone – it has been a month now,
And McTavish and I would fight for our cow.

June 26 – Still waiting
One thing with Cora – she cannot be hurried.
But I must say, I’m a little bit worried,
Worried that something had developed amiss.
Cora is old, perhaps too old to for this.

But Cora lies chewing her cud unconcerned.
With age comes patience, and there’s much she has learned.

July 1 – The Day of Cora


Today I saw Cora off standing alone
Away from the herd and just out on her own.
This is not common for my gregarious cows.
My interest was stirred, my excitement aroused.

I slowly walked up and went down on one knee,
And her new little calf walked right up to me.
Standing right by me, I could easily tell…
A girl, a little Cora, a Corabelle!
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This is the story of my herd for this year.
Some waiting. Some hoping. Even some fear.
By God’s good grace, I have a fine, healthy herd.
By God’s faithfulness, he was true to his word.